Guizhou Girl 'Drowned', Officials Say

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou say a teenage girl whose death sparked mass riots in Weng'an county died from drowning, as police detain civilians trying to launch their own investigation.
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Angry crowds set light to the Weng'an county public security bureau buildings and nearby vehicles, June 28, 2008.
Angry crowds set light to the Weng'an county public security bureau buildings and nearby vehicles, June 28, 2008.
Photo: courtesy of a Weng'an county resident

HONG KONGAuthorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou have announced the results of a third autopsy on a 17-year-old schoolgirl whose death sparked riots after locals accused police of covering up a rape and murder. The new results support the original verdict of death by drowning.

A team of 10 criminal investigators and forensic experts was sent down to Weng'an county last week to re-open the investigation into the death of Li Shufen, whose body was recovered from a river in the county June 22.

The people of Weng’an believe that the truth will eventually be uncovered, and that some day the whole world will know it."
Guizhou-based activist Liao Shuangyuan

The team performed a third autopsy on the girl's body with reporters in attendance, concluding that there were no signs of sexual assault, and that she drowned in the river in which her body was found. The original police report on Li, a former pupil at the No. 3 Middle School in Weng'an, initially said her death was a suicide by drowning, but her family insisted she was raped and killed.

"The provincial level examiner performed the autopsy," an official at government offices in Weng'an county, where the girl lived, said. "And with the victim’s family’s permission, the media were at the scene to monitor the autopsy process," the official added,

Officials are hoping the announcement will ease tensions in the town following riots on June 28 in which thousands set fire to police buildings and cars.

Activists investigate

But a social activist who joined an independent investigation into Li's death said local residents were still keen to know more about Li's death.

"The people of Weng’an believe that the truth will eventually be uncovered, and that some day the whole world will know it," Guizhou-based activist Liao Shuangyuan said.

An officer who answered the phone at the Weng'an county public security bureau said police were trying to track down the source of fast-proliferating rumors spreading online and among local residents, and were conducting investigations in primary and middle schools to find out who participated in the riots.

Meanwhile, police detained three Guizhou-based activists trying to carrying out an independent investigation and threatened them with prison if they released any details of the case. Chen Xi, Liao Shuangyuan and Wu Yuqin were detained after arriving in Weng'an county Tuesday.

"We were let go after 11 p.m," Liao said. "The police asked us where we went and who we talked to in Weng'an. They also asked why we used video cameras."

Threat of jail

"They treated us like suspects, and warned us not to tell anyone anything of what we encountered," he said.

Liao said the police were particularly interested in knowing what the trio had managed to discover. "They took away our camera and recorder and told us that we could be arrested at any time if we disclose any information about this case," he said.

Amateur video posted on video sharing sites, including YouTube, showed crowds outside the Weng'an county Public Security Bureau office building, which was on fire, surrounding by overturned and burning vehicles.

The official Xinhua news agency said up to 30,000 people took to the streets in protest over the weekend.

It said parts of the county's Communist Party Committee building were gutted by fire, and 20 police vehicles were burnt, with more than 150 people, including more than 100 police, injured during the clashes.

Police in Weng'an have defended their handling of the unrest, saying they showed "great restraint" in the face of attacks with bricks and water bottles.

Call for 'harmony'

Guizhou provincial Communist Party chief Shi Zongyuan has called for proper handling of the incident to promote social stability and harmony. Authorities say the protests were "incited" by a small number of people, who were later joined by "gangsters."

Li's fellow student, identified only by her surname, Sun, said Li had been a good student who got good reports from her teachers. She shared rented accommodation in the town with her elder brother.

Sun said teachers at the school had also told students that Li drowned herself in the river. But many versions of events posted online had confused the pupils, so they didn't know what to believe, she added.

Comments and postings on the riots were removed as fast as they were posted.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and Ding Xiao, and in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Jia Yuan. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Edited by Mandarin service director Jennifer Chou and Sarah Jackson-Han.





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